Emerging Technology

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety is Now

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This week the U.S. Food & Drug Administration held a public forum, “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” bringing together many organizations in the food ecosystem – food companies, food laboratories, food safety watchdog groups, food safety expertise and standards, and technology companies.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis made remarks to open the day. “We will see more changes in the food system in the next 10 years than in the prior 30-40,” he said. “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety needs to be people-led, FSMA-based, and technology-enabled.”

The FDA is looking for tangible strategies to modernize the food industry. What was clear through discussion is that not every company is at the same level of traceability – some have not achieved traceability in their process and need guidance from the FDA on what it means to be traceable.

While technology has helped us make significant progress, it is clear that the U.S. food industry still has a long way to go to ensure a smarter, safer food supply for all consumers.

Questions were raised around what data is required, what other companies have done to create traceability in highly mixed processes, and what standards they should adhere to when there are competing standards in the food space.

Success stories from companies like Dole brought the perspective that achieving traceability is not only possible, but happening today. IBM shared the work we’ve done to make transparency a reality, citing examples like the leafy greens initiative, our work in seafood, and the expansion of the IBM Food Trust network, based on blockchain.

For IBM and its partners, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety is here, now. We are helping companies radically redefine food safety with technology while keeping pace with consumers who demand digital transparency. Early last year, IBM and Walmart showed that, with blockchain, we can trace food to its origin in seconds versus traditional methods that can take a week or longer.

Today, global brands who have joined IBM Food Trust are sharing data about where food originates, where it has traveled, its condition along the way, IoT readings, inspection reports and more. Building such a network was unprecedented. We had to persuade companies that sharing data creates a stronger industry, we had to demonstrate we could be trusted to facilitate this work, and we had to show that it can be done cost-effectively, even for small farms.

Our partners today include not only household names like Dole, Golden State Foods, Walmart and Driscoll’s, but also small farms, like the ones in California where the majority of our leafy greens originate. These food suppliers share common goals: deliver fresher, safer food to consumers and ensure unsafe food is traceable.

Companies are continually joining IBM Food Trust, and we are applying advanced AI & analytics to food and IoT data, giving insight into food freshness and mitigating risk for companies and consumers. Last week, we launched a seafood partnership so consumers can use their smartphone to trace the origin of wild-caught scallops in seconds.

We fully support the FDA’s mission to bring innovation to food safety. We believe safety begins by moving paper-based food tracking into the digital era. We recommend the FDA facilitate data sharing – both between companies and key government regulators, and between regulating agencies themselves — to foster public-private collaboration during an outbreak and give consumers more trust in their food.

American consumers deserve to know their food products are genuine, not fraudulently substituted, and free of food safety risks. The FDA can create incentives to use technologies that support sharing, open standards and interoperability, like blockchain.

We believe blockchain is a game-changer for food safety. IBM looks forward to continuing this all-important work with the FDA and the food industry. Over the next month, individuals and companies will be able to post public and private comments. The FDA will assemble a blueprint for adoption, including guidance, research and examples.

IBM will stay committed to shaping this blueprint for a safer, smarter food supply for all.


-Suzanne Livingston
IBM Food Trust Offering Director 

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